Performer Nik Wallenda and Talented Family Members Dazzle Audiences in the Big Apple Circus and BeyondWhen Nik Wallenda was two years old he learned how to walk on the hire wire by holding his mother’s hand. He has never looked back from that lofty career move.
A seventh-generation member of the legendary Wallenda family, known for his incredible feats as an acrobat and high wire artist, Nik is currently holding court at the Big Apple Circus at New York’s Lincoln Center, located in Damrosch Park.
Celebrating its 40th Anniversary, this time-honored family tradition, had made its triumphant return to New York City, with performances through January 7.
After that, the Big Apple Circus will be launching a national tour. The first two stops on the tour are: Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta, Georgia, from Jan. 26 through Feb. 25, 2018, followed by the National Harbor in Washington D.C. from March 8 to April 1.
The Big Apple Circus New York has something for all of the senses: popcorn to munch on, light-up toys for the children, upbeat live music, and a feast for the eyes including a wide variety of seasoned performers in a rainbow of beautiful costumes.
Ringmaster Ty McFarlan takes his place in front of the cheering crowd of children, parents and grandparents, as well as their close friends, who witnesses breathtaking trapeze and high wire acts, clowns, and memorable animal acts.The animal acts featuring third-generation animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, her 16 ponies and horses, as well as her adorable rescue dogs.
Vidbel, who learned the art of animal communication from her grandfather, grew up among a wide variety of domestic and exotic animals, and she trained her first pony when she was just nine years old. She is clearly an animal whisperer.
Joining these daring acts is the return of fan favorite Grandma the Clown, an icon of the Big Apple Circus, and a member and member of the Clown Hall of Fame, and her comedic sidekick, Joel Jeske.Also joining the cast are Dandino & Luciana, a remarkable duo who combine speed, acrobatics and daredevil grace on roller skates; award-winning contortionist Elayne Kramer; master juggler Gamal Garcia; Jan Damm on the Rola Bola; acclaimed Risley acrobats The Anastasini Brothers.
The extraordinary Big Apple Circus show features the adrenaline pumping famous seven-person pyramid on the high wire with Nik Wallenda and his family members, known as The Fabulous Wallendas.
Anyone who has been a fan of the circus knows that the name Wallenda is synonymous with daring acts and incredible feats on the hire wire and beyond. His great-grandfather was the infamous circus performer, Karl Wallenda.
Thirty-eight-year-old Nik Wallenda, holds a phenomenal 10 world records on the wire, but is best known as the first person to walk a tightrope stretched directly over Niagara Falls. He says that he and his family came to the Big Apple Circus shortly after the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus closed.
“I am considered to be the face of the industry, with a legacy of more than 200 years of circus performing,” Nik recently explained. “This is my family’s first year with the Big Apple Circus, and we thought it would be something special to give a shot in the arm to our industry that has been struggling.”
In addition to watching Nik and his family members flying through the air, and complete many daring feats, he said he loves to spread his positive message when he and his family perform, and when he travels as a motivational speaker.
“My motto is never give up. I want to inspire people around the world to follow their dreams,” Nik explained. “I think in society today, and throughout the generations, there are people from all walks of life who are one door knock – or one email away from success; but they give up.”
“My family has been living that motto of perseverance for many generations,” Nik said, “and it is still a vital message today.
It is certainly an understatement to say that you are living a thrilling life. So, what is it like delighting children and families every day?
NIK WALLENDA: I really feel like I have never worked a day in my life in the ring or in front of an audience. I am not here just entertaining, but I am also here to inspire people from what we do.
They call you ‘The King of the Wire.’ How do you feel about that title?
NW: The King of the Wire moniker is like branding and marketing. For my first world record at the Prudential Center, they broadcast on the Today Show and they called me The Evil Knievel of the Tight Rope and The King of the Wire, and those names stuck. Whatever the media coins you as a name, or as a brand; it sort of sticks. I don’t think I am the greatest daredevil of the generation, but it really came with the territory. In the beginning I didn’t like it being used because they are many kinds of the high wire; but now it’s an honor.
What is your philosophy?
NW: Never give up. I want to inspire people around the world to follow their dreams. I think today in society, and through the generations people often are on the verge of success when they give up. They are one door knock or one e-mail away from success and they give up. My family has been living that motto for generations.
You have 10 world records, what is that like?
NW: It is a testament to my perseverance. In 2012, I fulfilled a life-long dream of being the only person to walk directly over the precipice of Niagara Falls. That took changing a 100-year-old law. In 2013, I became the first person to walk a wire across the Grand Canyon. So, I continue to follow those words even when it got tough. I think that a lot of people are staying in a work place where they are miserable because they are too scared to give up on their dreams.You first walked on the wire holding your mother’s hand, and made your high wire debut at age 13. Do you remember that?
NW: Yes, doing this was always a desire of mine, but at age 13 my parents said I was mentally capable and not too young to realize the dangers of what I was doing.
This is a family business – would you have considered anything else?
NW: I wrote a book in 2013 called Balance, the story of my life and my mom wrote a book called The Last of the Wallendas. She thought the interest was going away and my parents were living the lives of starving artists.
Did they want you to follow in their footsteps?
NW: No, not at all. My parents encouraged me to leave the business, not because of the danger, but because of the challenges of supporting a family in this industry. I was set to go to college at age 17 and was accepted at a university. My goal at the time was to become a pediatrician.
So, what happened along the way?
KW: Well, I still had a passion for performing. My uncle called us after he got a phone call that changed my life. They wanted us to go back to Detroit to recreate the seven-person pyramid for the first time since the collapse in 1962. I decided I wanted to go back and felt that our industry wasn’t dying; it was changing, so we had to change the way we do things.
Talk about the Big Apple Circus.
KW: My legacy is more than 200 years of circus. When Ringling Bros. announced it was closing at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, I awoke and saw Good Morning America cameras outside of my house at 5 a.m. since I am the face of the industry.
Why join this circus?
KW: My wife, Erendira, and I have a history of doing what we do, and we felt it would be a great thing to give a shot in the arm of our industry that has been struggling. This is our first year in my family’s history with the Big Apple Circus.
Is it true you have many friends in the Big Apple Circus?
NW: Yes, we grew up in this industry so I know most of the performers, and it’s a multi-generational industry, with five, six or seven generations of a family. So, we go out to dinner and just spending time together. I was talking to a lighting guy and asked him why he was back in the circus when rock bands pay more money. He told me ‘circus is a family; one big family.’ So, we eat meals together and just enjoy hanging out; that is one of the pleasures of what we do.
What else are you doing today – your day off?
KW: I am going to call the YMCA to reserve a court to play volleyball. I am always leaving my dressing room to hang out with my everybody else. We are all close friends. Someone may be on tour in Japan or Europe and we don’t see one another for three years and when we get back together it’s like we haven’t missed a day. Now with technology it is so much easier. When my wife and I were dating she was in Japan for three months and we were able to get a letter to one another once in a while. So, technology has certainly changed the way we live.
Would all of this be as exciting to you if the risks weren’t as great?
KW: What I do is about entertaining and inspiring people – so it isn’t about a thrill or adrenalin in any way. This is just what I do. When I am walking over a city – it’s not about getting a rush, it’s just my life. So, I don’t do it for the adrenalin in any way.
What is your passion?
KW: My goal is to inspire people. It used to be to impress people. But now I am focused on the bigger picture: using what I do to help one person to overcome a challenge. If I can do that, then there’s a reason for me. That’s my calling.
What are the fans like over the years do you hear from many of them?
KW: Yes. I receive hundreds of Facebook, twitter messages, emails and letters.
What do they say?
KW: They say ‘you have inspired me; I can overcome this injury or make it through my challenge with cancer’ or ‘I stepped away from my challenge or hardship to open a business.’ I do a lot of motivational speaking for businesses and that is more of a direct way to reach people and is always rewarding.
Tell me about your other rewarding work?
KW: My wife and I volunteer at a circus school Sarasota and is it amazing fascinating how some of the students with autism and other special needs are; they just excel at this. One boy is so good on the wire – I love watching how talented and hyper-focused he is. My wife and I have a dream to help children with disabilities and build this into a national program. I see what a great effect is has mentally and physically on them.
How proud of you watching your wife perform? She broke the World Record in mid-June for the highest suspension over Niagara Falls, on the fifth anniversary of your walk over the waterfalls on a tight rope.
KW: Very proud. But it is honestly more stressful to watch my wife of 18 years break a world record than it is for me to break one. She hung by her teeth from an aerial hoop dangling approximately 300 feet above the thundering water. I am extremely proud of my wife; she is an extraordinary performer and I think that we make a great team. We both draw the attention of the world and rubbed off each other.
What is it like having your children work with you?
KW: Like any parent, I want my kids to be happy with their decisions for the future. It is has nothing to do with their choice to be on the high wire. One of my sons is 19, and a U.S. Marine. I’m thrilled with where each of them is in their lives. You would think after seven generations it would be expected for them to be part of the industry. But it is contrary to that, I kept my children out of the spotlight. I wanted them to have the option to pursue their own dreams. My parents pushed me away from it but I have always loved being in front of an audience.
What kind of dad are you?
KW: I’m just as proud watching my son win a football game, as anything else that they do. I am proud of them as people. Proud of my kids for whatever they do.
Will you be going after more world records?
KW: I usually have six or seven events, or walks in the works, and there are some I may need to break again; that’s the way my world works now. I will have feelers out in many areas, and I have to wait and see what permits come in.
What do you, a daredevil, do to chill out?
KW: I spend time with family. My sons will be here for Christmas and we will do some sight-seeing at the Statute of Liberty, go to arcades and to the movies. We love playing football and beach volley ball.
What do the holidays mean to you?
KW: The best part is just spending time with family and friends. Life is precious and we don’t realize and as we get older – we look back I was so busy trying to create a career for my family and so on. But often when we do a show, it’s my entire family – my parents and my sister and my best friends — and we are performing and part of that group, and that is the best!For tickets please go to: Bigapplecircus.com/tickets/ticket-info/
For more information on Nik Wallenda please go to: nikwallenda.com